ASUS M4A89GTD PRO/USB3 Motherboard Review

ASUS' latest AM3 offering promises to be at least an interesting one. Not only does it feature USB 3 and SATA 6Gbps support, it also offers the lowest cost of entry into the world of quad core computing with support for a Core Unlocker. All with an 890GX chipset with integrated graphics as well.

Introduction

By now you've heard of ASUS unless you have been living in a cave with Osama or this is your first read on the subject of premium computer hardware. I'll skip the usual ASUS brief and get right to it. We are looking at the ASUS M4A89GTD PRO/USB3. As many times as I have had to type that lately I'm really hating the marketing guy who came up with the name for the board. In spite of that, the M4A89GTD PRO/USB3 is actually quite interesting. It's got USB 3.0 support and SATA 6G support. While those things are cool it is the Core Unlocker that I am excited about. Picture if you will a world in which you can buy a sub-$100 dual core CPU and unlock 4 cores with the push of just one button. Sound good? Even if you are the type of guy who drops $999.99 on the latest and greatest Extreme Edition CPUs you have to admit that a quad core CPU for $100 is pretty awesome. If you don't think that's awesome you either don't understand what that means or you need a defibrillator.

In any case that's the thing that excites me most about this board. I'll cover the feature in greater detail later on in the article. In fact I was so impressed by the feature I devoted an entire page to the topic. Aside from that the board has a lot going for it on paper at least. Integrated Radeon 4290 GPU, Hybrid CrossfireX, CrossfireX support, SATA 6Gbps, USB3 support, and a well rounded feature set. This board isn't as full featured as some flagship offerings we've seen from ASUS but it is certainly aimed at the enthusiast. Albeit a more budget minded one. The Core Unlocker is proof of that thinking in my opinion.

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The ASUS M4A89GTD PRO/USB3 is based on AMD's 890GX chipset and SB850 south bridge. This motherboard currently sells for $139.99 with Free Shipping. The board implements an 8+2 phase power design. While that number may not sound impressive it seems more than sufficient as most motherboard manufacturers lately have done a great job with implementing "quality phases" as opposed to quantity. The board of course features CrossfireX and Hybrid CrossfireX support. Among the ASUS specific features are the afore mentioned Core Unlocker, GPU Boost, Hybrid Processor, Turbo EVO, and Turbo Key II. The board features 12 USB 1.1/2.0 ports, 2 USB 3.0 ports,1 IEEE1394a port, 6 SATA 6G ports, 1 eSATA 3G port, 8-channel audio support, Gigabit Ethernet support, and legacy IDE support. Following industry trends, the ASUS M4A89GTD PRO/USB3 requires very few additional components to create a complete system. The required components are: AMD Socket AM3 processor; Phenomآ™II / Athlonآ™II / Sempronآ™ 100 Series, DDR 3 memory, power supply, and drives. The M489GTD PRO/USB3 has an integrated Radeon 4290 as well. So unlike most of the boards we've looked at here at HardOCP this board doesn't require a video card to make a fully functioning system.

Main Specifications Overview:

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Detailed Specifications Overview:

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Packaging

The packaging is basic but effective at keeping the board safe during transport. Included in the box is the board, manual, quick start guide, ASUS sticker, driver disk, IDE cables, SATA cables, I/O shield and ASUS quick connectors. Our test board arrived in good shape with no discernable damage to the packaging or the contents.

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Board Layout

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The layout of the M4A89GTD PRO/USB3 is pretty good for an AM3 board. I've often noted that AMD processor compatible motherboards have terrible layouts and while this one isn't as bad as some that I've seen, it does have a couple of problem areas. The largest of these is the memory slot placement relative to the CPU. Just behind the CPU you'll notice what appears to be an overdone MOSFET cooling solution as if there is such a thing. It seemed to work well as it never became even what I'd call warm to the touch. There didn't seem to be any significant radiant heat generated at the base of heat sink around the MOSFETS themselves so it really appeared to be doing its job.

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The CPU socket is far too close to the RAM slots. This prevents you from getting a clean installation of a larger CPU cooler like the Thermalright Ultra 120 Extreme. You will experience clearance issues with a myriad of CPU coolers on this board like any other AM3 board I've seen thus far.

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The board features four color coded DIMM slots and supports dual channel memory mode and memory sizes up to 16GB using 4GB modules. ASUS is again using their one sided locking tab equipped DIMM slots for memory module retention. However these are reversed from its usual position. I'm not sure what the thinking behind this is, but I can see this being both a good thing or a bad thing. With a larger video card installed I think I'd want the tabs on the other side so manipulating them would be easier. However in many cases the tabs would be on the outer most edge of the board and clearance could be a problem for your hands. So it is probable that ASUS made the right call here since there is a good bit of distance between the edge of the DIMM slots and a video card when a full length card is installed.

ASUS also placed their Mem OK button, Turbo Key II, and Core Unlocker switches next to the memory slots. Depending on your chassis these could be difficult to reach though you shouldn't need to manipulate these very often.

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The heat sink for the north bridge is right up against the primary PCI-Express x16 slot. However it does not interfere with anything as far as I can tell. It is a anodized aluminum heat sink with an embedded heat pipe that connects to the MOSFET coolers.

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The south bridge is passively cooled by a flat heat sink which also appears to be anodized aluminum. The low profile heat sink doesn't appear to cause any issues with expansion card installation. To the left of the south bridge are the SATA ports. These are placed OK but I much prefer the right angle ports at the board's edge. There are two such ports but the bulk of them are the straight plugs. I can see the top most two of them creating a tight fit when using two GPUs in Crossfire. I'm not sure what ASUS was thinking here. Given that SATA has been around for more than 5 years I think ASUS could have dropped the legacy IDE port and placed the SATA ports in that spot instead.

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The expansion slot area is well thought out. It is ideal for dual graphics card usage and provides clear and unobstructed use of the legacy PCI slots. The PCI-Express x1 slot will of course be blocked by any dual slot graphics card but the PCI-Express x4 slot will not be. I think this was a very flexible approach and generally speaking, a good call by ASUS engineers. The M4A89GTD PRO/USB3 comes with a switch card which is used for switching priority to the onboard graphics card. What is funny about this is that the print on the switch card tells you to place it in the black PCI-Express slot. This is difficult to do given that there are no black slots on the motherboard.

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The I/O backplane of the board is packed with ports. Starting from left to right and top to bottom: PS/2 keyboard port, two USB ports, optical out, HDMI out, VGA/DSUB, DVI-I, two USB, 1 IEEE1394a port, 1 eSATA 3G port, RJ45 LAN port, two USB 3.0 ports, and six-mini-stereo jacks for audio output.

Turbo EVO

ASUS has been bundling Turbo EVO with their boards for some time now. Overall I've always liked the utility for its slick interface, simplicity and functionality. They didn't turn it into bloat-ware (yet) and have kept it pretty lean.

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The main window gives you very few options until you hit the "more settings" button. It features sliders for HTT, CPU voltage, CPU/NB voltage, and DRAM voltage. It defaults to manual mode but there is an easy mode as well as an auto tuning mode. Once you click the "more settings" button you gain additional voltage settings. The CPU ratio button does just what it implies. Though only black edition CPUs will be able to adjust their multipliers up and down. As you can see the "Easy mode" just allows the adjustment of the Hypertransport bus and nothing else.

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The "Auto-Tuning" mode seems pretty simple. You can just click start if you wish or again press the "More settings" button and get a couple more options. You can set for fast tuning, extreme tuning or custom tuning. The latter really only allows you to select your DRAM frequency in addition to being a more "Extreme" tune than the Fast tuning mode. You can set for a fixed or flexible voltage if you wish. The latter should allow for higher gains as it will tell the system to adjust voltages while tuning where as the fixed voltage mode wouldn't. The flow chart basically shows you the steps the software will take to achieve the best overclock.